Household items get new life thanks to Repair Cafe Long Island volunteers
Paul Orfin has been fixing broken appliances since he was a kid. When the Patchogue resident’s first boombox stopped working, he took it apart and repaired it himself before it found its way to the dump.
Now a mechanical engineer at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Orfin is one of four Suffolk County residents who regularly travel mostly to libraries for Repair Cafe Long Island. With an eye on sustainability, the events are designed for community members to bring broken household items to be fixed by the volunteers.
“People throw out some really good stuff,” Orfin said from an event at North Babylon Public Library on Saturday. “Sometimes it’s not working because something is just slightly off with it.”
That’s where he and fellow do-it-yourselfers John Herson of Smithtown, Christopher Solomon of Central Islip and Ross Koppel of Commack come in.
Where to find Repair Cafe
- June 17: Wyandanch Plaza, noon-3 p.m.
- July 15: Hauppauge Library, 10 a.m. — 2 p.m.
- Sept. 9: Gold Coast Library (Glen Head) 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
The events are organized by Laurie Farber of the nonprofit Starflower Experiences based in Wyandanch. They started more than five years ago at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Wyandanch and have spread across Suffolk and some Nassau County libraries through word-of-mouth. Other residents also volunteer, more sporadically.
On Saturday, the core four, each with a unique expertise, took apart clocks, a lamp, a vacuum, a paper shredder, KitchenAid mixer and more.
Lynn Parish first met the crew in March at South Huntington Library, where they recommended a new switch for a four-bulb lamp that wasn’t functioning properly. On Saturday, she returned with the switch and the lamp and went home smiling.
“Everyone is super pleasant,” she said of the team.
Herson, at 91, is the elder statesman of the bunch. When his grandchildren visit, they bring one bag of clothes and another loaded with valuable items that need fixing. On Saturday, he wore a navy blue crew neck sweatshirt that read “Grandpa Mr. Fix It.”
“I’ve been fixing things my whole life,” he said. “It just came to me naturally and I love it. I never stop.”
Herson said he has noticed a decline in the quality of how things are built. It is also more costly to fix items. Sometimes you might pay a repairman $100 just to look at an item they can’t fix, he warned. And your cost to fix something yourself might double due to the cost of locating obscure parts and having them shipped, he said.
“Obsolescence is a major part of everything,” Herson said. “Sometimes you find the problem, but you can’t get the parts.”
Heather Griffin of Lindenhurst handed Herson an old pair of dress shoes that were coming apart Saturday and he extended their life with a little glue to the toe cap and outsole.
“I’m a new woman,” she said as she left the library with her repaired shoes, handbag and mountain bike.
Earlier she showed Herson a plastic bag she brought with a box of record player needles and other spare parts and asked if she should throw them out, something her own grandfather would have scoffed at.
“Never,” Herson said. “There’s always a way.”
Solomon, a second-generation electrical engineer, said they can't fix everything but they always give it their best. Koppel, who travels with a set of screwdriver bits that could open most any appliance, isn't afraid to turn to technology when the group is stumped.
"I think this is a YouTube," he said at one point Saturday.
"It might be a YouTube," Orfin conceded.
Anything to keep an old appliance running.